Union Comrades, Fellow Amputees

Four federal officers pose with their swords, and carry the visible effects of the human cost of war. Three of the men have suffered the amputation of the right arm, and the fourth the loss of a finger or fingers.

The identity of only one of these citizen soldiers is known. William A. McNulty (standing, right) served with the Tenth New York Infantry. He was wounded in action at the Battle of Fredericksburg, Va., on Dec. 12-15, 1862. The Tenth, also known as the “National Zouaves,” paid a heavy price at Fredericksburg: 15 killed and mortally wounded, and 53 wounded and missing.

This carte de visite is new to my collection, and is now available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr:
Union Comrades, Fellow Amputees

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A Girl’s Best Friend

girl-standing-dog-BWhen it comes to Civil War era images of dogs and humans, you’ll find our canine friends almost always posed with boys, men and soldiers. Here is a rarity: A girl and presumably her faithful friend. The girl pictured here, with curled hair and dressed in a light colored frock, stands poses with a most attentive dog. The dog is in sharp focus, and kudos to photographer Israel Francis Irving Alger (1828-after 1900) for managing to keep her four-legged friend still. The large photographer’s back mark of the reverse of the mount dates this carte de visite to the late 1860s. This image was recently added to my collection.

This image is now available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr:
A Girl's Best Friend

A Pennsylvanian Who Stood Up to Lee in 1863

Samuel A. McCulley (also spelled McCauley) numbered among the thousands of Pennsylvanians who rallied to defend the homeland after Gen. Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia invaded in June 1863. McCulley served a 60-day term of enlistment as a sergeant with Company A of the Fifty-first Pennsylvania Militia Infantry. The regiment was organized at Philadelphia on July 3, 1863—the last day of the Battle of Gettysburg. It mustered out on September 2, 1863.

This carte de visite is new to my collection. The condition and content is excellent. Clearly visible is the infantry horn insignia pinned to his hat, and the bright brass “A” in the middle. The tip of the plume attached to his hat can just be seen. The edge of his jacket where the buttons attached seems to be double-stitched, perhaps to insure that it holds up under the rigors of campaign.

This image is now available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr:
A Sergeant in the Pennsylvania Militia Infantry

Wounded at Perryville

Joseph W.R. Stambaugh of the Seventy-fifth Illinois Infantry suffered a wound in the side during his first big fight at Perryville, Ky., on Oct. 8, 1862. He made a full recovery and joined the Pioneer Brigade of the Army of the Cumberland, with which organization he served on detached duty in Tennessee until November 1864, when he joined the First Veteran Volunteer Engineers. He mustered out of the army as a captain at the end of the war. He died in 1890.

I’ve had this image in my collection for years. His story appeared in my first book, Faces of the Civil War: An Album of Union Soldiers and Their Stories. The image came to my attention the other day after trading emails with author and historian Greg Mast, who is working on a new book about North Carolina men who served during the Civil War. Although Stambaugh wore Union blue, he was born in Fayetteville, N.C., according to his military service records. Later census records state that he was born in Maryland and Pennsylvania. It is unusual in my experience to have such confusion about a soldier’s state of origin.

This image is now available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr:
Wounded at Perryville

“African American Faces” Talk at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum

wisconsin-meI felt right at home in the Wisconsin Veterans Museum from the moment I entered the building yesterday afternoon. Located across from the stately Capitol building in Madison, the museum delivers on its tagline, “Connecting the past to the present, one story at a time.” Established by Civil War veterans in 1901, the museum is ably led today by Director Michael Telzrow (pictured, right) and Curator of Research & Public Programs Kevin Hampton (left).

Mike and Kevin generously shared their time and expertise as they took me on a behind the scenes tour of the museum, the highlight of which was a viewing of Wisconsin Civil War soldier images. In recent years they’ve built an impressive collection of cartes de visite, tintypes and ambrotypes. The team at the museum are on the front lines of preserving these wonderful images, and they deserve tip of the forage cap for their ongoing efforts.

Mike himself collected photos for a number of years, and we had fun referencing dealers we know and trading stories about unusual finds we’ve made along the way.

Another highlight was a viewing of original flags from Wisconsin regiments. These celebrated relics, torn and damaged from being carried into action on battlefields and faded from the elements, still remain powerful icons of the sacrifice of citizen soldiers from Madison and elsewhere in Wisconsin who stood up to fight for freedom and Union. The emotion attached to these banners continues to resonate, and I was instantly moved by their power.

We then toured the museum’s Civil War exhibit, which includes a Confederate cannon captured at Shiloh and almost immediately shipped to Wisconsin as a war trophy, and other objects with stories that are equally fascinating.

Mike, Kevin and I then had dinner, followed by my presentation about African American Faces of the Civil War at the museum. I was impressed with the quantity and quality of questions from the audience.

wisconsin-booksAfterwards, I signed books in the lobby gift shop. Here I met Kate Wheat of the 1st Brigade Band. Kate has purchased “Huzzah” refrigerator magnets from my wife, Anne. Kate kindly gave us her CD, “Frock Coats & Hoopskirts: Music for a Military Ball.” It’s currently playing in the background as I write this post.

I also met a young man named Matthew, who purchased a copy of the book. He is fascinated with the Civil War, especially the Battle of Gettysburg and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. He reminded me of myself as a boy, and I was particularly pleased that a copy of African American Faces is in his possession. I hope it deepens his appreciation and understanding of this pivotal moment in our nation’s history.

I’m deeply appreciative for the opportunity, and thankful to Mike, Kevin, Jen, and the rest of the staff for making my Wisconsin visit memorable! I left the museum deeply impressed, and highly recommend a visit. I look forward to working with Mike and Kevin as they continue to seek out Wisconsin Civil War images.

Eyes out for the five-button coat!

A Pair of Federal Sergeants

New to the collection is this carte de visite of two Union comrades flanking a column. Both men wear the chevrons of a sergeant on their uniform; the soldier on the right has a diamond at the inner angle of the chevron, which indicates that he is a first sergeant. Selected by the company captain, a first sergeant was the ranking non-commissioned officer in a Civil War company. It is his job to receive orders from the captain and be sure they are carried out.

This image is now available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr:
A Pair of Federal Sergeants

Appearance at the Slouching Salon

slouching-salonLast night I gave a talk about African American Faces of the Civil War before a small discussion club at a private home in Arlington, Va. The group, known as the “Slouching Salon,” has been in existence for years. They normally convene to discuss a specific topic, but occasionally entertain speakers. I found them to be tight-knit group who were eager to learn and had plenty of good questions. An excellent event, and many thanks to host Bob Roll for inviting me to participate. Speaking in a small private space instead of an auditorium was a more intimate experience, and reminded me of the popular House Concert movement currently in fashion. I’d like to do more events like this!

Here I am kicked back in the living room of Bob Roll’s residence, at the very beginning of the presentation.

Latest on NYT Disunion: Out of Ammunition at Sulphur Springs

phelpsMy latest New York Times Disunion post tells the story of a Union guard’s doubt about a messenger’s frantic request, which resulted in fateful consequences for Lt. Lester D. Phelps and his comrades in the Eighth Pennsylvania Cavalry during a skirmish at Virginia’s Rappahannock River. An excerpt:

A lone Union cavalryman sped away from the front lines through the Virginia countryside towards Warrenton on the afternoon of Oct. 12, 1863. He soon encountered federal provost guards, who ordered him to halt. The cavalryman relayed an urgent request: He and his fellow troopers had come under heavy attack by the enemy and, low on ammunition, they needed help immediately.

The provost guards doubted the veracity of the request. They had heard the same story repeatedly that day told by stragglers fleeing advancing Confederates. The provost had turned all of these shirkers away, and they were not going to make an exception now. They denied the request and sent the cavalryman back to the front.

Read the rest of the story.

New to the Collection: A Navy Man with Gumption

When I find an identified Civil War image up for auction on eBay or elsewhere, I usually invest a bit of time into pre-research to verify his identity and learn a bit about him before I bid.

When this portrait of navy engineer Benjamin F. Wood came up for auction, I had every intention of doing my normal research. However, the deadline arrived before I was able to find the time, so I simply took my chances and bid.

Turns out I was the winner!

back-Wood-Benjamin-USN-BAfter receiving the image in the mail, and reading his name neatly written on the back, along with his rank (3rd assistant engineer), ship (USS Sassacus), and date (April 1862), it occurred to me that the “F” most likely stood for “Franklin.” So many men from the Civil War generation were named for Benjamin Franklin (and George Washington), and chances were good that a search for “Benjamin Franklin Wood” might yield a successful result.

So I typed the full name, along with “navy” and “civil war” into Google and hit enter. The first result was this wonderfully detailed obituary that appeared in the November 1910 issue of the Journal of the American Society of Naval Engineers:

BEN. WOOD.

If our obituary were under the caption of Benjamin Franklin Wood its designation would probably not be nearly so well recognized as under that of Ben. Wood.

Chief Engineer Ben. Wood was a character, and will long be remembered in the service. He was born in New York in 1836, and learned the trade of machinist at Fletcher & Harrison’s in New York City. He was naturally gifted in engineering, and, though never a great student nor a man of scientific pretensions, he was possessed of that quality known in his day as “gumption.” He could see into a millstone as far as the wisest man, and, with his rule in his hand, could tell very closely what the diameter of a shaft should be or the amount of draft a key should have, and you might figure on it an hour without being able to prove the error, if it existed.

He was a man of great resource. When the double ender Sassacus lost her steering gear in a storm, and the vessel was in danger “Ben.” improvised a temporary rudder which served its purpose. This was not until other improvisions had failed.

During the Civil War “Ben.” served on board the Lancaster in the Pacific, afterwards on the monitor Lehigh and on the double-end gunboats Sassacus and Mohongo, in the North Atlantic Squadron. After the war had ended he served in the monitor Dictator; at the Morgan Iron Works, and again at the New York Yard. “Ben” was promoted to be a Chief Engineer in 1883, and did inspection duty at Chester, Penna. After that he served on the old Kearsarge. in the European Squadron; on the Ossipee; in the N.A. Squadron, and finally at the Continental Iron Works, Brooklyn, where the so-called torpedo boat Alarm was being altered. He was retired in 1892.

Personally “Ben” Wood was a prepossessing man, with very handsome eyes, fine features and very dark hair, which never turned gray. He was a reticent man, though rather pugnacious. He was a “stickler” for what was right, but, when beaten, always accepted the result, and was never vindictive.

“Ben” was a model husband, a good son, a good father and a good citizen. He was abstemious to a fault, temperate in his living as in his acts. He was ever regarded as a “good shipmate,” and those who had sailed with “Ben” were glad to sail with him again.

Life is short, and in it we are seeking pleasure in our youth and comfort in our old age. Among our shipmates we look for men of capability, integrity and amiability. Ben. Wood possessed the essential of these, and it is a pity that he could not have lived longer.

G.W.B.

His portrait is now available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr:
A Navy Man with Gumption

New to the Collection: Hidden Mother

Photographing children has always been a challenge, and the 1860s were no exception. Complicating matters was technology—many kids just couldn’t sit still long enough to prevent a blurred exposure, even though the process lasted all of 15 seconds. This of course was an eternity to a child, and so often a mother would step in, hide herself behind a backdrop of cloth or a blanket, and hold the child in place.

Such is the case here in this carte de visite by Deck & Happersett of Kenton, Ohio. I never tire of seeing these images! This portrait is now available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr:
Hidden Mother